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Lavonne Paire-Davis dies at 88; inspiration for Geena Davis’ character in ‘A League of Their Own’

David Brown
Big League Stew

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The classic baseball film "A League of Their Own" immortalized the life of Lavonne "Pepper" Paire-Davis, though you might not have made the connection at first. Paire-Davis, the inspiration for the character played by Geena Davis, died Saturday of natural causes at age 88.

In 1992, "A League of Their Own" gave a fictionalized account of the birth of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was developed by Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley on the fear that Major League Baseball would cease playing because of World War II. The majors never stopped, but the women's league proved popular enough to stay in business from 1943 to 1954. They might have played in skirts, but the women also played to win. Their artifacts are all over the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and their place in baseball history is undeniable.

The Associated Press has the details of where Paire-Davis came in:

She was a catcher and shortstop, and helped her teams win five championships. She chronicled her baseball adventures in the 2009 book "Dirt in the Skirt."

"I know what it's like for your dream to come true, mine did," Paire-Davis said in an AP story in 1995, when she was 70. "Baseball was the thing I had the most fun doing. It was like breathing."

After graduating from high school, she enrolled at UCLA as an English major, worked as a welder's assistant at the shipyards in Long Beach, and spent every spare moment playing in local softball leagues.

Her heart, however, belonged to hardball.

"Don't get me wrong, I was glad to be playing softball," she said in 1995. "But I'd rather have played competitive baseball."

Talk about a girl after my own heart. How can you not love her for that?

In the movie, Geena Davis played Dottie Hinson — a gorgeous athlete who became a star player in the AAGPBL as her husband fought overseas. Her sister, Kit Keller, was one of the league's top pitchers. Of course, it was the movie that also gave us, "There's no crying in baseball" — which is not always true, but it's a memorable line.

[Also: Pitcher's cross-country drive to spring training detoured by trade]

The one thing about Paire-Davis' obit that threw me a little: She never played for the Rockford Peaches. Producers of the movie juggled the facts around so they could fit everything into two hours. Instead of being a Peach, Paire-Davis won championships with the Racine Belles, Grand Rapids Chicks (! — the "Chicks") and Fort Wayne Daisies.

No, wait. Kit, played for the Belles! Well, apparently there was no Kit, either.

But there was a "Pepper" Paire-Davis, who provided inspiration for a lot more than just a movie character. May she rest in peace.

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